To know Daniel Hemric is to inherently believe in him.
The oversimplified narrative surrounding the newly crowned NASCAR Xfinity Series champion is that he reached the highest levels on nothing but merit and an impressive short track resume. That’s only partially true because banks unfortunately do not accept merit as a valid form of payment when it comes to paying for a full NASCAR season.
Fortunately, Hemric knows a banker.
There were a lot of people Hemric thanked on the stage when presented the championship after outdueling Austin Cindric in dramatic fashion for his first NASCAR triumph, but none came up more than Bill Gallaher.
Hemric was having a banner Super Late Model season in 2013 when he was provided a chance to make his Truck Series debut at Martinsville with a team owned by Gallaher and Eddie Sharp. Hemric grew up with Austin and Ty Dillon and Richard Childress Racing provided the engine for that race.
The alternator expired seven laps in, but Hemric inspired Gallaher, and that relationship has lasted eight years throughout a NASCAR career across all three national touring levels. First Community Bank? California Clean Power? Poppy Bank? That was all Gallaher and his unwavering support of Hemric over the years.
"Mr. Bill and Cindy Gallaher, they've been my rock since 2014, 2015, continued to invest in my career, invest in my program even when they probably shouldn't," Hemric said in Victory Lane.
Hemric was such a strange case prior to Saturday night.
The short track resume indicated the 30-year-old was a winning race car driver. And yet, Hemric was shut out of Victory Lane for 207 starts across all three levels, especially in the Xfinity Series where he finished second 10 times.
Hemric advanced into the 2017 championship race and was leading at the time of a pit road snafu that cost him several laps. He faced questions over his seeming inability to break through from top-five driver to winning driver but finally did so on the biggest stage with the championship at stake.
On a green-white-checkered finish, one of the cleanest drivers in the sport was willing to lay the bumper on Cindric and do what it took to win a door-slamming drag race to the start-finish line. Hemric didn’t wreck him. He bumped him.
As the vernacular goes, rubbin’ son is racing.
"Until you spin somebody out, it’s not dirty racing," Cindric conceded.
Crew chief Dave Rogers told Hemric to do whatever it took in the moments before the final restart. Hemric doesn’t even know what that even was. He blacked out. It was all a reactionary trance until he watched the replay.
"Dave Rogers … has been a huge critic of mine this year and pushed me to be a better race car driver," Hemric said. "This wasn’t the Daniel Hemric who had to work on his own cars, had to drive his truck and trailers to the racetrack, who had to worry about every part and piece of the car.
"I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was reacting strictly off instinct. There was no plan. Go where he's not. Position myself to wherever that run is going to be, do whatever you can to keep that forward progress."
Hemric got loose under Cindric and thought that was it. Cindric could carry the momentum on the high side all the way to the checkered flag if Hemric couldn’t break that speed.
"For whatever reason, I had enough lateral grip to kind of feed the throttle back to it and it stayed underneath me enough to give me a chance," Hemric said. "That's all I wanted. I wanted a chance. He drove in hard to keep me from getting to him. I had way more balance than I'd had all night getting into (Turn) 3. It was close enough to get him upset, to gives ourselves a shot, and that's how it happened."
Dave Rogers believed in Hemric the way Gallaher believed in him. When Hemric went winless in JR Motorsports equipment, Gallaher was able to get him in the Gibbs No. 18, albeit with a contractual caveat that required the driver to once again bet on himself.
Hemric only got paid when he finished in the top-five -- something that happened 15 times in 33 starts. That caveat ends with a championship bonus.
"The hunger to feel this is what impacted me tonight," Hemric said. "It's impacted me my whole life. It's the matter of getting an opportunity and seizing it.
"Any parent will tell you when it's you and your wife, it's one thing, you think you'll figure it out. When you bring another person in this world, like our little girl Rhen, that's a different perspective. To bet on yourself, the livelihood of your family, your daughter eating, putting food on the table, that changes it.
"Knowing the decisions I had to make last week to give our family the shot we did tonight, there's no more motivation needed than that."
How could anyone not believe in this guy?
Amongst the group of family and friends on the stage with Hemric was Tim Ladyga, or Mr. L as he’s known in short track circles. Ladyga was also a long-time Hendrick Motorsports over-the-wall crew member.
"For those that don't know, he sold one of his personal muscle cars that he built, spent a ton of money on to put me in a Legend car," Hemric said.
This was when Hemric was 13 years old and without the family means to have his own race car. His parents got him through karts and bandoleros, but it was Mr. L that gave Hemric a shot to take control of his own destiny.
Ladyga owned the car but Hemric kept it in his shop and learned how to manage and prepare it himself.
"It was all on my shoulders to figure this out," Hemric said. "It took guys like Tim Ladyga to be able to get to that moment on the start/finish line. … He stuck his neck out so many times for me. He would tell Jimmie (Johnson) that he needed to see me race. He was kind of my race track dad bragging about his kid.
"He was that guy for me at that age. It was cool to feel all that come full circle, to see him down on the start/finish line. It's validation that he was telling people what he believed in me, for me to go show people what he saw in me, that's validation for myself and I think for him."
Together they won the Legends Million at Charlotte Motor Speedway -- the richest purse in Legends history. Hemric claimed $250,000 with a car that he prepared and serviced himself.
The cycle repeated itself again when he linked up with Super Late Model team owner Jake Carswell, a founding member of Christian rock band Newsong and promoter of the Winter Jam concert series. Together they won a dozen Super Late Model races, including the 2014 Redbud 400 and the 2013 Southern Super Series championship.
Carswell knows his way around a Super Late Model well enough but Hemric knew how to set it up as well as he could drive it.
His tenure driving for Ladyga saw to that, paid off with Carswell, and impressed Gallaher when it came time to reach the highest levels.
Again, to know Hemric is to believe in him, and that belief finally paid off with the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. But even that didn’t come easy. The hauler containing Hemric’s No. 18 broke down on the way to Phoenix and the car only cleared technical inspection 30 minutes before practice.
There were parallels to the Legends Million.
Hemric ran out of gas driving his car, a ’95 Honda Civic, to Charlotte Motor Speedway. He pumped gas out of his race car to get him to the track with no way of getting back until he won the $250,000 later that night.
"I was in disbelief that entire night," Hemric said. "I'll never forget laying out at a Steak 'n Shake, head on the table, all of our group of supporters are eating. I'm just tired. We prepared 12 cars. We take home this $250,000 check to win a Legends car race. I was in disbelief. I haven't felt that again until tonight. The things that have to go the way they have to go for stories to be wrote like the one we wrote tonight, what else can you ask out of life, right? Memories.
"To have all these huge supporters, father figures, the journey is everything. Mr. L told me before my first truck start that the destination is fine, but the journey is everything. The journey it took us to get here today, it's something you can't make up."